Minn-stf Policy on Web Display of Documents with Ambiguous Copyright
Matthew Strait, Archivist
5 November 2016
This policy, adopted by the Minn-stf board on 5 November 2016, covers Minnstf
publications, or individual contributions to them, for which the following
statements are all true:
- The publication was not originally published on the web (alone
or along with a print edition), and
- The contribution is credited to a particular person who
is not directly speaking for the club (as in a report from the
board) or for a convention as a whole (as in a note from the chair) and the
contribution is creative and non-trivial1 (contributions failing this are assumed to be
copyright Minn-stf or public domain, as appropriate), and
- The archivist can't find contact information for the
contributor or we use a seemingly good e-mail or postal mail address but
get no answer, and
- The contribution appears fannish, e.g. it is not a reprinting
of a professionally published work of fiction or part of an art
To put it another way, these are works for which it seems safe,
based on our experience (see below), to assume that we would receive
permission to post them on the web if we managed to make contact.
In these cases, we will post the work on the web with the statement
"© Jane Contributer, all rights reserved". This, in effect,
makes the assumption that when someone said "Sure, you can put my work
in that program book", they did not mean to restrict it to a single
printing or a particular medium (paper), but conservatively assumes that
they did mean to retain copyright and are not allowing it to be released
under any sort of permissive license such as Creative Commons.
Further, we will not sell any reprints of these works at a net
In the unlikely case case that we post
something under this policy and the copyright holder eventually finds
it and objects, we will naturally take it down (or update the copyright
statement, or down-res the art, or whatever they want).
(This section and what follows are all commentary and not policy.)
Around 2008, I started on a project to put old Minicon
publications up on the web. Since then, I've expanded the project
to cover all Minn-stf publications.
The board at the time asked that I ask each copyright holder for
permission to put their submissions on the web, under the conservative
assumption that, unless otherwise stated, when people allow their works
to be included in a print publication the permission is only for the
paper version and not a subsequent electronic posting.
I didn't appreciate at the time what a huge undertaking this was. Older program
books tend to have contributions by more people than newer ones, sometimes
dozens in a single book. In Minicon program books alone, there are over 200
(potential) copyright holders. I have not yet attempted a complete survey of
the copyright holders for Minicon progress reports, pocket programs, fallcon
materials, Rune, etc.
So far I have gotten copyright answers from 122 people. All but two gave us
permission in some form or another (98.4% success). To illustrate the
rationale behind this policy, I've summarized the categories of responses:
- ~90% affirmatives without reservations or conditions, including:
- Transfers of copyright to us
- Permission to republish on the web
- Permission to distribute via Creative Commons
- Permission to distribute under an informal agreement such as
"as long as it's for fannish purposes" or "as long as it's
not for profit."
- A few people who gave permission to post their contributions on the
web, but were clear that we had to be careful if we found other works of
theirs. These are professionals who carefully guard their professional
works, but are happy to have their fannish works shared.
- A few people who required us to notify them as we post new works of
- 3 people who gave permission, but asked for a cut in the profits
if we ever sell something including their work. One of these is Jim
Odbert, who also required the copyright statement to name his company as
the copyright holder instead of himself.
- 2 artists who gave permission, but required their art to be posted
at low resolution only. (In one case 72dpi and in another "not
- 1 person (estate, actually: Poul Anderson) who gave us permission
to republish as long as a specific copyright statement was used. It
turns out that this statement differs only slightly from the one I use
- 1 person (Charles Urbach) who gave permission, but also the odd
statement "However, I need to retain the copyright to the materials,
and in some cases, the copyright may now (or in the future) belong to
- 1 unambiguous refusal: Graydon Saunders -- no reason given.
- 1 partial, ambiguous refusal: Jay Kay Klein, who has one photo
in the Minicon 27 program book. He said that we may not show it on the web, but
we may include it in print publications. But he also said that his copyrights
were being transfered to UC Riverside (and since he wrote, he died, and they
were), and they will allow us to post this photo on the web (for a $25
The responses can be further subdivided, but I don't think the details
are relevant for this policy. For full details, see Copyright answers at
There are 37 copyright holders with works in Minicon program books who I have
not gotten an answer from. I am lacking any sort of contact information for
many of these. 3 of these are artists who I only know by their signature -- I
have no full name (Dex, TL and S. Jay). 2 others are known to be deceased.
Some I have e-mailed and gotten no response. Some I have e-mailed and written
a paper letter to and gotten no response. In most cases these are postal
addresses dredged out of the depths of the Minicon registration database. I
would be surprised if more than half are still good.
Of people contacted who have replied, there is a 98.4% success
rate at getting permission at the level given above: web-posting with
all-rights-reserved copyright.3 (Or 98.8% counting Jay Kay Klein as
a half success.)
I listed some details of the answers I got above to show that even when
there are complications, this policy above covers them pretty well.
For instance, professionals want to make sure we don't republish their
professional work without explicit authorization, so we won't do
that. A few people want a cut of profits, but that's no trouble, since
we aren't planning to make any. The complications that aren't totally
- People who want specific copyright statement wordings. However, the two
such requests I've gotten are only small variations on my default, so
I don't think using my default would cause trouble.
- Artists who want us to down-res their art before putting it on the
web. Of the two such requests gotten so far (see below),
only one is really relevant since you don't get true 300dpi by
scanning a print-out anyway.
- The Charles Urbach-type oddball situation. Obviously there could
always be something strange that we haven't thought of.
We think the probability of legal trouble is very very low. Besides the
fact that it's unlikely anyone will object in the first place,
copyright problems are usually dealt with via a polite
e-mail, followed by a formal cease-and-desist letter, followed finally
by suing the offender. Since we'd happily comply with the polite
e-mail, we'll never let it escalate.
- Most Minicon program books between Minicon 11 and 38 have a copyright
statement that says "Upon publication, all rights revert to the author or
artist" or something similar.
We will assume that the contributor retains copyright, but that they are
ok with the book being republished on the web.4
- The Minicon 14 program book has a copyright statement that says
"It's all yours, guys!", which has ambiguous intent, but the same
- The Minicons 24 and 39 program books have no copyright statements: same upshot.
- The Minicon 27 and 28 program books have a copyright statement
with the clause "All rights reserved under various and sundry
agreements and conventions." All contributions seem to be fannish. Same upshot.
- The Minicon 41 program book has no copyright statement. Everything
in it is cleared except for photos of Harlan Ellison. Since these
look professional, they don't fall under the policy.
- Most or all material in RUNE is covered by this policy.5
- Shorter publications like pocket programs, progress reports,
flyers, etc. tend to have no copyright statement. Generally the text
isn't credited, but there may be artwork,
usually of the fillo variety. They fall under this policy.
- ... non-trivial1
contributions being things such as text explaining where an event is, a
department's policies/procedures, and so forth, given that it is just
- Such as we have been doing recently with artist
guests of honor.
- ... copyright.3
- For the statistically-inclined,
this means that if we asked another 100 similar people, we'd expect between 0.4 and
4 negative responses at 90% confidence.
- ... web.4
- This is a change
from the previous, 2011, version of this policy, when we were more conservative
about this case.
- ... policy.5
is a change from our 2011 policy, which was more conservative about the
"Upon publication, all rights revert..." sort of clause.